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Local politicos weigh in on Senate scandals
They may be of different political stripes, but three local politicians all agree the scandals that have embroiled the Senate in Ottawa are an embarrassment and reflects badly on everyone in Parliament.
But they still can’t agree on what should be done about it.
In recent months, the scandal has involved questionable expense claims for living expenses by Conservative senators Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Liberal senator Mac Harb, as well as the arrest of Tory senator Patrick Brazeau for assault and sexual assault.
These are a “watershed,” pointing to the fact the Senate has outlived its usefulness and relevance, said Peter Julian, the NDP MP for Burnaby-New Westminster.
“People want to see the Senate abolished,” said Julian.
Joyce Murray, a federal Liberal MP in Vancouver Quadra who once represented New Westminster in the provincial Legislature, said the Senate “is an important institution that has an important function when done properly,” but individual senators, who are appointed by the sitting government rather than elected, need to be more accountable.
“It’s part of a larger concern people have about accountability in our political system,” said Murray.
She said it may be time for a public referendum to decide the Senate’s fate.
“It’s time to have a fuller discussion, rather than a sound-byte conversation with the public as to the role and function of the Senate,” she said.
Paul Forseth, who represented New Westminster in Ottawa for the Reform Party and the Conservatives, said the scandals are an “embarrassment and damaged reputations.”
He said senators should be elected at the same time as Members of Parliament, their term limited to nine years, and that the number of senators should be weighted according to the population of each province.
“It does function as a sober second thought, even though some claim otherwise,” said Forseth.
The Senate’s role is to review and debate legislation after it passes through the House of Commons and makes recommendations about changes that might be needed before being adopted into law.
“The Senate is a precious insurance policy of protection in reserve for the nation.”
Julian said the Senate is more like a warehouse for the ruling government to reward loyal supporters and store failed candidates.
“The Senate is full of entitled senators abusing taxpayer dollars,” said Julian. “It enhances cynicism.”
Murray agreed the current troubles in the Senate “further undermines confidence in our system.”
She said it “feeds into a larger narrative that is bad for our democracy.”
But, said Forseth, abolishing the Senate wouldn’t be wise.
“The Senate works in our Westminster system,” he said.